Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fishery lessons from Alaska

Who will argue with an 800 lb grizzly bear about a fish?

Fishery management is working better in Alaska than most places, because people come second. That's common sense in Alaska where you might be arguing with a bear.

To paraphrase Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, regarding the law that bears his name (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act): it's not designed to protect fishermen, it's designed to protect resource productivity.

That's why overfishing is illegal in the U.S., and why the needs of fishermen are supposed to come second. In Alaska, where state and federal management do the best job of protecting fish, both fish and fishermen are thriving. Too few fishermen and managers around the U.S. have learned these lessons. Some even want to weaken existing law, so fishermen can persist in the folly of overfishing. Not a good idea, we've seen the disastrous outcome of overfishing far too often.

After a week in Alaska, I certainly won't argue about a fish with any of the bears that I saw.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Washington shellfish toxins hit record levels

It's a bad year on the northwest US coast. Now we hear that toxic shellfish are a problem, thanks to record-setting blooms of toxic plankton on Washington shorelines.

Let's see, we have the dead zone underwater, starving birds, raw oysters making people sick at record levels, and now paralytic shellfish poisoning toxin at record levels. Yikes, what's an ocean lover to do? Backing off of shellfish is especially hard.

I'm told that most of these problems are unrelated, and not tied to human impacts. It's hard to believe that such a piling-on of problems is just an unhappy coincidence. I wonder what we'll think about all of this in 10 or 20 years. Looking back, will it be just a bad year or a sign of things to come? Regardless, I hope we see the need to get our house in order.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Klamath River chemical spill misery

This is getting ridiculous, the poor Klamath River can't catch a break. On Friday, 500-1000 gallons of a toxic asphalt emulsion spilled into the river near Hamburg, creating an 8 mile plume.

Officials advised that nobody should use the river, not for swimming boating or fishing. Damage to fish has not been assessed, but presumably they shouldn't use the river either.

It's as though some higher power has decreed that the Klamath River is the designated place where bad things happen. Here's a link to President Bush's statement on the Klamath River basin.

Blogfish may have to adopt the Klamath River and start digging deeper. So far it looks like a mess, wrapped in misfortune, and shrouded in obfuscation. Whattya think loyal readers?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Large oil spill in Indian Ocean

Oil fouled the Indian Ocean near Nicobar Island, after a Japanese tanker collided with a cargo ship.

The area was already reeling from the devastating tsunami of 2004 that swept the region with catastrophic loss of life.

The oil spill was about 300 miles offshore, which may be far enough to keep the oil from contaminating the rich nearshore ocean ecosystems of the islands in the region.

In a separate spill, a tanker sank off one of the Philippine Islands, leading to an officially declared "state of calamity" and the potential for an "environmental catastrophe.

Oil consumption has direct effects on oceans, in addition to the indirect effects of CO2 increase, acidification, and perhaps warming-linked plankton changes leading to starvation or hypoxia.

Yikes, what's an ocean to do?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Killer whales kiss and make up after squabbles

Despite the fearsome name, killer whales seem to be a model for peaceful reconciliation after disagreements.

According to scientist Michael Noonan, killer whales kiss and make up after fighting. Maybe there's a lesson for humans in the behavior of these fearsome and toothy beasts that could tear each other apart.

The make up period for killer whales consists of 6-10 minutes of synchronized side-by-side swimming. Killer whales now join primates as examples of animals with specific peacemaking behaviors.

Noonan thinks we can use killer whales to study the evolution of peacemaking in complex societies. Perhaps there are lessons here for there a place for court-ordered synchronized swimming to help feuding people soothe and settle?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More overfishing for red snapper

No relief for red snapper. Fishery managers in the Gulf of Mexico refuse to rein in unsustainable overfishing.

This is the 9th year in a row that managers have perpetuated overfishing, and red snapper are now down to 3% of historic abundance.

In a classic example of declining expectations (shifting baselines), charter boat operator Ron Woodruff seems satisfied with 3%. He said "there's more fish out in this Gulf of Mexico than there were back in the 1980s." What, was it 2% in the 1980s?

Fishermen need to stand up for the future in the Gulf of Mexico, and demand an end to overfishing. Who else will do it?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Toxic algae in Klamath River

It seemed that things couldn't get worse in the Klamath River--and then things got a LOT WORSE.

Toxic algae blooms are now a serious human health risk in the Klamath River, and serious harm could come from drinking just a few ounces of water accidentally while skiing or swimming. Much of the area looks unsafe, like a "radioactive putting green" according to an observer, but the toxin is stable in water for weeks and harmful levels of toxin could remain when the water looks fine.

Oh great, now the Klamath River system is toxic to people and not just to fish. Maybe this is what it takes to get serious attention on the problem. This ought to be enough to get serious attention, right? Blogfish will follow this story for you, since the algae mess goes nicely with the blogfish color scheme.

photo: Karuk tribe

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

California moves to protect ocean ecosystems

The California Fish & Game Commission moved closer to protecting ocean ecosystems.

As debate continued late into Tuesday night, the protection plan was taking shape. California is close to final action in creating an historic network of marine protected areas that restrict or eliminate fishing along the state's central coast region. Streaming video or tape of the debate available here, including public comments. It's fascinating to watch this history being made.

With all the bad news about ocean decline, creating some areas where fish can reproduce unmolested is a necessary step in ensuring there are fish in our future ocean. Even where declines are not caused by fishing, it's a good idea to let depleted fish populations have some refuge areas so they can do their best to survive global warming and hypoxia, etc.

Many fishermen are incensed about Marine Protected Areas, believing that we have a right ot fish anywhere. But come on fellas, be reasonable. Freshwater refuges have been around a long time and they enjoy wide support among fishermen. Why not in the ocean? Fishing regulations are often a haphazard and piecemeal effort to protect fish, and we all know the patchwork of regulations frequently fail to achieve their goals. Refuge areas are a common sense idea whose time has come.

MPAs work, and let's all rise about our personal interests and embrace the strong medicine needed to ensure that we give fish a chance in the non-pristine oceans of our future.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Georgia's coastal ocean the next dead zone?

Oxygen levels are dropping year by year off Georgia, leading one scientist to suggest that Georgia could be next in line for a summertime dead zone.

Peter Verity says that he's already seen scary low oxygen levels (nearly lethal hypoxia) and increases in jellyfish (there's the rise of slime again).

This is a big surprise off Georgia, where moving water should prevent hypoxia.

Surprising dead zones off Oregon and perhaps next off Georgia? The rise of slime? It seems Jeremy Jackson's deeply sad "Brave New Ocean" is coming soon.

Here at blogfish we like oxygen. We promise to try to find some good news so that we can all breathe again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ocean wasteland off Oregon

More on the Oregon dead zone, and it's not good.

This week researchers studied a once-beautiful reef in the Oregon "dead zone" and found a wasteland. With oxygen levels near zero, fish had fled and the reef was littered with thousands of dead crabs.

This is unprecedented in 40 years of monitoring and "not normal" according to biologists.

Stay tuned, this requires watching. Suggested links to global warming are not proven but very scary.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Taking the oomph out of hurricanes

If there's something big, windy, and scary in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Hurricanebusters!

Some scientists have an idea for weakening hurricanes. They hope to reduce hurricane-caused damage by cooling the ocean water ahead of a hurricane. This would work by pumping deep water to the surface. Even where the ocean surface is warm, cooler water is available just a few hundred feet down.

Since warm water makes hurricanes stronger, and cool water makes them weaker, everyone seems to agree that the theory is solid. But the hurricanebusters plan would be hard to implement. It would be tough to design, build, and deploy pumps that would keep working in a rough, stormy ocean. But maybe it's worth a try since just one hurricane can do enormous damage?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Polluted beaches

How nasty are US beaches? Dirtier than you might think.

Lots of beaches are being closed because too many bacteria make them unsafe for swimming. Ignore the signs and you might get sick, with vomiting and diarrhea and a high fever. Ugh.

The EPA says we're making progress, but clean beach advocates disagree. Read the info and judge for yourself. One scary fact, 8% of all tests found unsafe levels of bacteria.

Not exactly how we'd like things to be.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Acid oceans threaten sea life

A new horror story for the oceans, just when you thought you'd heard enough. Human-produced carbon dioxide has made our oceans more acid, harming ocean life, and the situation is only getting worse.

Ocean acidification is real, and it could worse for oceans than global warming.

Experiments suggest that realistic levels of acidification may cause calcium carbonate to dissolve. Not a big deal? It is if you're an animal like a coral or a pteropod, with a calcium carbonate skeleton. Imagine having your bones dissolve, sort of like osteoporosis for corals.

Ocean acidification is caused by increases in carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater and turns into carbonic acid, increasing acidity and (for you science geeks) lowering ocean pH. So just when we're all talking about global warming (or the myth of global warming) and it's harm (or benefits!), it seems we've been missing the boat, the real carbon dioxide threat may be ocean acidification.

Let's hope we'll find a way to avoid the ultimate bad acid trip.

NOAA photo: pteropod

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More ocean oil drilling

The Senate approved more ocean oil drilling yesterday, and the House has approved a related bill. Both authorize more offshore oil drilling. Differences between the two chambers may prevent final approval.

Ocean oil drilling creates toxic contamination from drilling mud used for lubrication, along with occasional oil leaks.

Offshore platforms are believed by some to create positive effects for fish by serving as artificial reefs that produce more fish. Unfortunately, if fishing is allowed they can be a detriment to fish populations, by attracting fish that are easily caught, similar to FADs (fish aggregating devices). Without FADs, depletion can be the (sad) last refuge for fish because they are too sparse to catch effectively. With FADs, even depleted fish can be effectively caught.

Do we want more oil drilling off our coasts? Is this the highest and best use of our oceans?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

San Francisco's sand dunes

Who knew that the foggy city has magnificent sand dunes, up to 700 feet long and 30 feet high?
Nobody but us fishes, and a few octopi and friends, I guess, since the dunes are just outside the Golden Gate, under a couple hundred feet of water.

Another hidden surprise from the wonderful underwater world.

These are some of the largest underwater dunes on Earth, formed by the powerful Golden Gate tidal currents that routinely exceed 5 miles per hour, thanks to lots of water rushing in and out of a narrow bay mouth.

Add in a westerly wind at 25 mph (not unusual) and you get the lovable and intense "washing machine" conditions great for windsurfing under the Golden Gate bridge.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Unusual Oregon dead zone spreads, worsens

..."it could never happen here"...

Oregon's dead zone is bigger and badder this year, probably trying to compete with its more famous cousins like the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Oregon dead zone is now recognized as probably caused by people, despite learned opinion from a few years ago that it was a natural phenomenon.

Low oxygen water has crept into shallow waters this year, and the darn thing is spreading up the Washington coast. Crab fishermen have found dead crabs in their traps, and dead fish have floated up onto beaches.

If you've never seen the Oregon coast, this is not where you expect a dead zone. Rough and sometimes craggy, with open beaches and not a lot of shallow water, the ocean off Oregon is swept by fairly strong currents and whipped by waves even in the summer. The water is usually cold and few people live on the coast. Overall, this is not a typical recipe for a dead zone (more typical = shallow, enclosed areas with lots of nutrient runoff and fairly immobile water where plankton blooms can cook up, sizzle, and then rot into a stinky deadened broth).

Nobody would have believed it if told a decade ago that a human-caused dead zone would be wreaking havoc off the Oregon coast. It just ain't how Oregonians think about the wild coast. Thunder and tarnation.

BTW, for the record, the dead zones are called that not because everything dies. Some wicked slimy things thrive in so-called "dead zones," and what dies is just all the nice things that people like to eat.